Prajnaparamita, the Perfection of Knowledge Goddess
9th century-10th century (made)
- Materials and Techniques:
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
South-East Asia, room 47a, case 14
The Buddhist goddess Prajnaparamita is the personification of a Mahayanist Buddhist text of that name, written around the 8th century. The emergence of this goddess is an indication of the growing power of the cult of the Buddhist saviour figure, the Bodhisattva and the female counterpart, Tara. Prajnaparamita was seen as the embodiment of knowledge, the higher wisdom, and is often linked to Manjusri, the Buddhist personification of wisdom, though not as his sakti.
The goddess is in a meditation posture, with her manuscript supported on a lotus flower at her side. She is seated with crossed legs in a meditation posture, and has her hands poised before her chest in the dharmacakramudra (‘turning the wheel of law’) gesture, denoting expounding the Buddhist law (dharma). She is crowned with a small diadem and wears makara ear-ornaments, arm and wrist bracelets, and ankle ornaments.
The modelling of the figure suggests that this sculpture may be the product of the Mahayanist monastic workshops of Sri Lanka, most probably belonging to the late Anuradhapura or early Polonnaruwa periods. Historically Sri Lanka was a major centre for Mahayana Buddhism along with the Hinayana tradition, which prevails today. Later Sinhalese orthodox histories of Buddhism have largely erased the memory of this Mahayanist dimension to Buddhism in Sri Lanka, but the survival of masterpiece sculptures such as this makes its presence clear.
Sri Lanka is known as the land of Hinayana, the defender of 'original' Buddhism. Yet a significant number of stone and bronze images survive to demonstrate that Mahayana, the north Indian form of Buddhism, was also widely practised in Sri Lanka in the late Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa periods. Prajnaparamita, the personification of a text of that name, was worshipped as a female bodhisattva or Buddhist saviour. This bronze shows the goddess in a meditation posture, with her manuscript supported by a lotus flower at her side. Stylistically this figure can be related to the Hindu bronzes of the late Anuradhapura - early Polonnaruwa period.
9th century-10th century (made)
Materials and Techniques
Height: 15 cm, Width: 13 cm, Depth: 7 cm
Object history note
Purchased from Mr A Biancardi (Walmore Collection)
ehejia, Vidya (ed.) Devi: The Great Goddess: Female Divinity in South Asian Art. Washington : Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution,1999. ISBN 8185822638/3791321293, p. 303, cat. 59.
The Goddess Prajnaparamita, 9/10th century, Bronze, Polonnaruwa style, Sri Lanka
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Guy, John: 'Indian Temple Sculpture', London, V & A Publication, 2007, p.119, pl.134. ISBN 9781851775095. John (ed.). ‘L’Escultura en els Temples Indis: L’Art de la Devocio’, Barcelona : Fundacio ‘La Caixa’, 2007. p.147 cat. 111. ISBN 9788476649466 Guy, John. 'Buddhist Bronzes of Southern India : Rediscovering a Lost History' in Arts of Asia, volume 30 number 6, Nov-Dec 2000, pp.103-110.
: L’escultura en els temples indis: l’art de la devocio (CaixaForum, Barcelona 27/07/2007-18/11/2007)